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Sidelines: Take some time and get lost in the woods

It happens every time.

I was driving by the Chief Shabbona Forest Preserve over the Labor Day weekend and decided to stop.

Except for the sign dedication at the forest preserve in early July, I haven’t been there in years, not since we held family reunions there when I was in high school. Like most families, I suppose, we divided into groups. While the adults sat around and talked, the little kids played on the playground equipment and the older ones played softball. Eventually, we all ended up on the trails.

To this day, I still love walking through the woods, soaking up nature. There’s something about looking into the deep thicket of trees and dark green bushes, seeing a fallen tree off in the distance, wondering how old it is and how long it’s been like that.

As I walked, I also wondered what it was like for Chief Shabbona and for the Native Americans who were here hundreds of years before Columbus got lost and found them. How much has it changed since they were here? When they roamed the area, they weren’t doing it for exercise and relaxation; they were searching for food and water, and maybe scouting out enemies.

Then it happened.

No matter how many times I walk the same trails, there’s always that moment I start to panic a little. As I wind through one twisting path after another, hidden from the sun and everyone else, I start thinking, have I gone too far? Can I find my way out of here? Will the park be closed when I get back to my car?

I know it’s irrational, but I can’t help it.

It’s about then I tend to hear a sudden, unexpected noise which startles me. I tell myself it’s a squirrel, or maybe a bird. But for that one split second, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the return of that bear who visited us last spring. Or maybe it’s something more sinister. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve read too many Stephen King novels.

Of course, it’s always nothing.

Fortunately.

According to its website, the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District was established in 1940 “to provide recreational opportunities, to preserve and restore our natural plant and animal life for both public enjoyment and education, and for the protection of our natural heritage.”

The website lists the facilities in the county and shares a little about each one, such as the trees you’ll find there, how many acres are in the preserve, and any of its unique features. A forest preserve brochure has a map showing where the facilities are located and what you can expect, such as shelters, camping, fishing, canoeing, handicap accessibility, etc. Some, like the Great Western Trail and Chief Shabbona, have snowmobiling in the winter, while two others, Russell Woods and Sannauk, offer sledding hills. Most are hidden from well-traveled roads, like MacQueen near Kirkland – which is, by the way, the only one to offer tent camping.

The one thing they all have in common is a chance to get away from the world for a while and refresh yourself. Summer may be starting to fade, but nature lives on.

For more information, call the DeKalb County Forest Preserve at 815-895-7191, or visit www.dekalbcounty,org/forestpreserve.

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